Gang members who stole £60,000 worth of farming machinery are jailed

CCTV from a Necton farm in September 2018. Photo: Norfolk police

CCTV from a Necton farm in September 2018. Photo: Norfolk police - Credit: Archant

A gang targeted isolated rural farm buildings as they stole high value items such as power tools and quad bikes totalling around £60,000, a court heard.

John Watson. Photo: Norfolk police

John Watson. Photo: Norfolk police - Credit: Archant

The thefts took place over a six-month period, leaving hard-pressed farmers angry and inconvenienced by the loss of vital equipment for their business, Norwich Crown Court was told.

John Morgans, prosecuting, said John Watson, 32 and of no fixed abode, was involved in four burglaries, four thefts and an attempted break-in.

He admitted the offences, as well as being in breach of a Criminal Behaviour Order not to enter the Splashes site in Swaffham.

Tony Gaskin, 21, of Tennyson Road, Rushden, in Northamptonshire, was also involved in the conspiracy, admitting three thefts and four burglaries and a 17-year-old youth, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, admitted two thefts.

Tony Gaskin. Photo: Norfolk police

Tony Gaskin. Photo: Norfolk police - Credit: Archant

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Mr Morgans said a significant degree of planning was behind the thefts, which took place between August 2018 and February this year in Breckland and West Norfolk.

The men were arrested after police launched Operation Kingbird to combat rural crime.

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Sentencing them, Judge Anthony Bate said: "The losers all state a sense of anger and annoyance at the loss and all the thefts caused inconvenience to the many hard-pressed farmers, who can ill-afford to lose valuable equipment."

He said the total value of stolen items totalled around £60,000 and said the gang had carefully planned the raids using false number plates on vehicles to try to avoid detection.

Watson was jailed for three years, Gaskin for 18 months and the 17-year-old received a 12-month referral order.

Charles Kellett, for Watson, said he was planning to look to life beyond crime on his release.

Mark Shelley, for Gaskin, said he had also moved away from the traveller site he had been living and back with his mother in Northampton and had not offended since.

Afterwards, detective inspector Alex Gilmour said: "This organised criminal activity had a massive impact on the victims they targeted, many of whom were farmers and rely on equipment and vehicles to do their work. I'm pleased that through our investigations we were able to return a large amount of stolen property to the rightful owners."

In August last year, the group targeted a farm in Hawkedon, Suffolk, stealing an anvil worth £200 as well as properties in Hindolveston and Langham, in Norfolk, where tools and a quad bike were stolen.

In Wolferton on September 7 the group broke into a workshop, stealing a generator, quadbike and tools worth £10,000 and targeted a property in Scarning on September 19, stealing tools and a quad bike.

The defendants went to a farm in Necton on September 24 and entered a barn, before accessing a John Deer 4x4 Gator vehicle, which triggered a security alarm, alerting the farmer who went to inspect the barn.

Shortly after arriving he witnessed three men leave the barn and get in a car, which he followed a short time before losing them. CCTV captured all three suspects leaving the scene and resulted in all being identified by officers.

In October, the trio committed offences in Burnham Deepdale, Ashill and Great Dunham, stealing in excess of £20,000 of tools, climbing equipment and a Ford Ranger.

Local policing commander inspector Jon Papworth, who led Operation Kingbird, said: "We are committed to supporting our rural communities by disrupting and preventing crime.

"Concerned by the rise in crime in the area last summer, we launched a dedicated operation using a range of policing and criminal justice tactics which, I'm pleased to say, resulted in the successful prosecution of all defendants.

"My officers recovered many items which had been stolen from farms and businesses, including quad bikes and power tools and were able to return them to their rightful owners.

"Operation Kingbird was successful in reducing crime, with burglaries down by 61% and acquisitive crime down by 44pc following the arrest of the defendants.

"By its very nature, rural crime is challenging to police, however I hope this operation and outcome shows we will pursue criminal cases and bring those to justice who target rural communities."

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